HitFix Interview: Semhar Tadesse of ‘Survivor: South Pacific’

No matter how you feel about the overall impact of Redemption Island on the past two “Survivor” seasons, one thing you can’t deny is that it has taken some of the anonymity away from being the first contestant eliminated from the game. 
It used to be that the person voted out initially would have only part of one episode to make an impression, but “Survivor: South Pacific” viewers got to spent three episodes seeing 24-year-old Semhar Tadesse, whose only mistake in the game was volunteering for a key role in the season’s initial challenge and tiring out too soon. 
The spoken word artist may have failed at that task, but at least she got to perform three of her poems on national TV before being knocked out in a totem-balancing Duel during Wednesday (September 28) night’s episode. 
Plus, she got to be immortalized in impressively sexist terms by fellow castaway Jim, who led the charge against Semhar, declaring, “Her body is mesmerizing, but it’s not hypnotizing.”
In our post-elimination exit interview, Semhar shared her thoughts on her elimination, her on-screen poetry and being mesmerizing, but not hypnotizing. 
Click through for the full interview…
HitFix: First off, tell me about the poem you recited before the Duel on Wednesday’s episode. Why was that the right poem for that moment?
Semhar Tadesse: I chose that poem because it’s positive and because it’s very comforting to me. But what you don’t notice is that I’m really just saying it to myself. No one else could hear me. I think the mic got turned up on that one, but I thought that the reactions and things that were edited in were hilarious and it was completely funny. It was a great laugh.
HitFix: So you’re saying that Jeff Probst really wasn’t rolling his eyes at you and your poem?
ST: Right. Nor was Ozzy looking over at Coach or Coach looking over at Ozzy. They couldn’t even hear what we were saying to Jeff, so they for sure couldn’t hear me mumbling to myself down there like that. But I think it was so funny. It was a great way to laugh at it all.
HitFix: How much is poetry what you use to buck yourself up or get yourself in the right frame of mind when you’re in the real world?
ST: Well, you know, at that point it was suggested to me by someone else, who was like “Maybe you should say a poem to calm yourself down, because you’re shaking like crazy.” And I was. I was shaking. It would have been fine for any challenge that didn’t have to do with balance. But it really did calm me down. My hands eventually stopped shaking and we were able to move forward. I didn’t even think the cameras were still on me at that point. I thought it was like, “We’re all gonna chill out for a second and then we’ll start.” But no. They were right there.
HitFix: It didn’t look like there was anything in particular that did you in on the Duel. Usually there’s something you can point to that goes right or wrong in challenges like this, but with this, it seemed like just one of those things.
ST: Oh yeah. It was just that I eventually lost it. What you don’t realize is how heavy those things are, as well. They look so light when you watch it on television and there are so many factors you don’t think of. But yeah, I lost the Duel fair and square.
HitFix: On Wednesday’s episode, you also describe Redemption Island as being scary. Why was it bad?
ST: Well, it was dark and me not being a complete Mother Nature or “Survivor” person myself completely, I noticed the difference. When I was with my tribe, it was like the animals were scared of us and when I was on Redemption Island, it was like I was scared of them. They didn’t fear me at all and I was by myself. They were like, “Yeah, I’ll come out hang out with you by the fire” and I was like “Yeah. OK. Alright” and I’d back up. That’s one of the things that made it scary, for sure, trying to sleep and hearing something rattling in the bushes? That’s scary.
HitFix: What wildlife were you actually seeing out there?
ST: I don’t know exactly what type of bird it was, but it looked like a miniature stork almost and it would just come out all the time like, “I’m not intimidated by you.” And tons of insects were crawling all over us. I got stung by a bee twice on Redemption Island. Yeah, I was just one person, so they were like “We have you outnumbered and we’re not scared of you at all.” And I had no idea what kept going on in the bushes, but at one point, I think even the camera guy got scared and that’s when I really got scared.
HitFix: Did it get better, though? Did you get more accustomed to it and better able to handle it?
ST: It got better. I would say it was bittersweet. There were scary times, but then there were the times of happiness, for sure. I think I had one of my happiest days in the game on Redemption Island. It was a day I was trying to fish, didn’t quite work out, but I did end up finding a banana and I boiled my clothes to clean them that day and hung them to dry. Yeah, I had a good day on Redemption Island and it’s one of the great things I learned about myself: With all these natural disasters happening lately, it’s nice to know that I can at least make it three days and that I can start a fire, which I did three times. So yeah, I learned a lot. It was scary, but it was fun too.
HitFix: You touched on this briefly before your exit, but what were you hoping to prove to yourself doing “Survivor” and how well do you think you succeeded at that? 
ST: I don’t know if I was really trying to prove anything to myself going into the game. I think I just saw the million dollar check and I saw an opportunity to travel the world and write books and just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I took it. But leaving the game, I learned something kinda interesting about myself, that my personality and who I am as a person is not available to compromise, not even for a million dollars. And I feel kinda good about that. I think some people leave the game having extreme regrets — I’m sure everyone leaves the game having extreme regrets,  but as to their character and the type of person that wanting that makes them become — but I’m happy to say that I was my own self and that got me right out of the game, because it didn’t work for me. But in life, it was a great lesson.
HitFix: So when you look back, do you see ways you could have stuck around if you’d just been willing to compromise?
ST: Sure. I think that what you don’t see is that at the beginning of our challenge, we asked Jim to lead us in the challenge. And Jim put his hands up and kinda didn’t want to do it and said, “You guys know me — Not great at anything, not bad at anything.” So that’s when I stepped up. It’s not like I just was like, “Hey guys! I think I should do this!” No. It was like we had 30 seconds to decide and we were running out of time and Jim clearly didn’t want to do it, so that’s when I stepped up. I think that had I not done that, none of the drama to follow would have placed anymore targets on my back and I think I would have been safe, so yeah.
HitFix: Given that context, were you surprised when Jim turned on you as quickly as he did after the challenge? 
ST: Yeah. Completely. Well, I wasn’t surprised when he turned on me. He tried to give me something immediately after, like we were just all good and all cool and I was just like, “Dude. Do you not realize what you just said? Don’t even… Just give me my space right now.” I’m not gonna turn around right after that and be like, “OK. I really did notice that you gave it your all.” It’s a little late for that right now. But I was surprised, because Jim and I did end up going on a little walk-and-talk and an apology took place and we hugged it out, you know? And he told me like, “Well who are you thinking?” and I was just, “I think Cochran, probably” and he was like “Yup. That’s exactly what everyone else thinks.” And he’s like, “You’re good. Don’t worry. We had a little scuffle.” He’s like, “It’s fine. At least you stepped up to the plate.” And we moved forward from there, but then pretty much shortly before going in, the last words I heard, after feeling super-secure about myself, were “Sorry, I tried,” from Ozzy. So I was like, “S***. What does that mean?” Who do I trust? All of these people who told me I was safe or the one person I actually really trusted, who told me I wasn’t. So I went into Tribal confused.
HitFix: Did everything that went down both before and during Tribal Council make more sense to you after getting to watch it on TV?
ST: Well, I already knew what happened. I was able to get more perspective with the whole “mesmerizing not hypnotizing” thing or whatever. I had no idea that that was going on and that he was the one who was truly pushing for me. I had a feeling, but that was something that I learned watching the show. Yeah, I was surprised the whole time and that confirmed it, but I knew it was coming. What I was surprised by was that no votes weren’t for me, because I knew that I wrote Cochran’s name down and that’s the one time I saw someone else’s name and if I know television correctly, they’ll always try to make it seem like it’s a close race if they can, but they couldn’t.
HitFix: You mentioned Jim’s “mesmerizing not hypnotizing” line. When you heard that, what did you think of it?
ST: Douchebag. [She laughs.] I don’t know. It’s Jim. It’s in his personality to say weird things like that and I never even thought my body was mesmerizing, so I guess I’ll take that as a compliment and move forward. But yeah, it’s kinda disrespectful the way he said it, but that’s just the way he is.
HitFix: You mentioned earlier that in addition to the money, one of the things that drew you to the game was the ability to write about the experience. Have you been able to write about this and get profitable material out of it?
ST: Well, it’s a part of my life and it was a life experience, but everyone’s been asking me, “Do you have any ‘Survivor’ poems for us?” and I’m like, “No.” I did not feel inspired to go and write about everyone after this, but I was inspired by the beauty I got to see traveling to such a beautiful country and maybe I had some hard feelings that I dealt with by writing them away, getting out of the game, and maybe that’s how I’m able to put it behind me now.
Stay tuned for a full season of “Survivor: South Pacific” exit interviews.